I have to say, I was a little hesitant to try Prudence Uncorked again. I had had a couple of pretty lousy service experiences there last summer, but had heard good things from others. When I asked for recommendations from my local Twitter friends, Prudence was mentioned and I decided to give it another chance especially since they have a new chef.
I took my brother and sister-in-law to Prudence for dinner after December and when I called for a reservation, they said they had gotten quite busy, so they were thankful I had called ahead. There were about 6 other tables full when we arrived and we were seated quickly by a very friendly server.
The atmosphere was warm and we all agreed that we liked the warm color on the walls and the fact that the kitchen was open. It gave it a welcoming feel that would be difficult to acheive in such a large building otherwise. The tables were spaced sufficiently apart so that conversations felt private. When we first arrived the music seemed a little louder than necessary, but as the night went on it faded into the background, so they either turned it down, or perhaps the restaurant got louder as people chatted.
Our server brought bread to our table and filled our water glasses. She seemed a little overwhelmed as she seemed to be the only server taking orders, making drinks, serving food, filling water, bringing bills, and clearing tables. It seems the restaurant would do well to have a busser to do some of the backup work as they get busier.
When our server finally came to take our order she apologized for the long wait (and it had been quite awhile), mentioned that there was help on the way, and then took our order. Prudence has quite the fanciful names for menu items, but I noticed they were tamed down nicely since the change in chefs. They used to be really over the top with the crazy names. I ordered the Smoking Hot Trout, my brother ordered the Chic Clam Linguini, and my sister-in-law ordered the Penne Pasta on the Wild side, which features wild mushrooms. We also ordered an appetizer of Mushroom Bruschetta (which just came with regular bread, rather than bruschetta toast), I ordered the butternut squash soup, and my sis-in-law ordered a side salad called Simply Salad. The appetizer came out before the soup and salad and we all tried it, although we left most of it for my brother because he adores mushrooms. It had a nice assortment of mushrooms in a very heavy cream sauce. The sauce had good peppery flavor, but it was more of a soup consistency and it was difficult to eat on the bread. My soup was good, but lacked something in flavor. The salad had a delicious homemade dressing on it, and was very large for a dinner salad. The mixed greens were slightly softer and more wilted than expected, but overall it was a decent salad.
We also ordered a bottle of wine with our meal and asked for it to be chilled even though it was a pinot noir because my brother had tried it that way at another restaurant and enjoyed it chilled. They were happy to chill the bottle for us and then when help arrived, the new server brought it out and let us taste it. It was quite good and we enjoyed it while we ate our appetizers and feasted on the plentiful bread they supplied our table with. I don't know if they are usually so generous with their bread, or if they were trying to keep us from getting too hungry while we waited for our food, but they brought out two generous portions while we waited.
Our dishes were well presented and generous. The clam linguini had plenty of clams in it and there were lots of mushrooms in the mushroom pasta. My trout came with lentils and greens and included the entire fish. I can't say I would order it again as it was a little bland, but I would definitely order the mushroom pasta for myself next time. The prices, although in the upper range for Salem, were reasonable. Entrees were somewhere in the $15-$25 range. We spent a little over $100 for three people including a bottle of wine and three starters, but no dessert.
There was one other slightly unsettling thing that was happening while we were there. I debated whether to write about it or not, but it did strike me a few times throughout the meal and my sister-in-law mentioned it too, so I thought I better share the experience. A man I imagine to be the manager or owner was sort of hanging out watching what was going on. I'm not sure if he was just trying to make sure things ran smoothly or what, but it ended up looking like he was just lurking in the corners and staring at the diners. Very disconcerting. It would have been much better if he had picked up a water pitcher and filled glasses or asked diners how they were doing, if he wanted to keep an eye on things.
Overall, the Prudence experience was just okay. Good food, not great. Good servers, but understaffed. Nice atmosphere, but a little bland. There just wasn't anything to set it apart and make me want to go back again right away. And that makes me a little sad. I really want to support this place.
325 High St. SE
Salem, OR 97301